Remembrance, Always.

Always & Remembrance: are the two Willow Tree figures I have chosen in memory of two significant people in my life: my father, and one of my closest friends, who graduated to heaven five days apart.

These two lovely figurines now have pride of place in my special cabinet to remind me daily of these beautiful people and the incredible love I have for them both.

Mourning Song

Image by Joanne Van Leerdam. June 24, 2020.

I wrote this poem back in 2016.

These words have been in my mind again the past couple of weeks, following the death of my father and the passing of one of my closest friends on the day of his funeral. Losing them both within five days of each other was more painful than I can describe.

Photo artwork by Joanne Van Leerdam. June 24, 2020.

Tears fall,
Can’t stop them,
Can’t hide them.
You’re gone,
Can’t bring you
Back again.
Why am I always the one who is feeling
The pain of the wrenching and tearing of leaving?
Why must this pain be so raw deep inside of me?
My heart
Misses you
Desperately.
Please say
That you won’t
Forget me.
I can’t imagine my life without you in it,
Bereft of the light and the joy of your loveliness,
Every room filled with the echoes of memories.
Never
To be the
Same again.
Tears fall,
Into the
Loneliness.
You’re
Gone.

©2016 Joanne Van Leerdam

Mourning Song.
#poetry #grief #Emotions #poetrylovers #personal #ReadAWrite

This poem is included in my collection titled ‘Leaf’.

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Ambiguous Loss and Anticipatory Grief

I wish I had known about ambiguous loss and anticipatory grief much earlier in my life.

In yesterday’s post, I alluded to my Dad’s transition into residential aged care. 

Today, I want to share some knowledge I have gained over the past few months, because I have found it enormously helpful and therapeutic in dealing with my own experiences and feelings.  I am sure I wasn’t the only person who didn’t know these things, and my hope is that others will benefit from these insights. 

My father has become increasingly frail, and even though I knew the time was coming, making the decision to move him into residential aged care was incredibly painful. For him, it was a loss of independence, his home, his cat and my dog. His sadness was profound, and completely understandable. Still, he was very thankful — as were my siblings and I — that he could move into an excellent place where the care is consistently empathetic and kind, where the food is good, and where he can have his own things around him. 

My emotions, too, were complex. I felt guilty, even though I knew it was the right time and the right thing to do. No loving child wants to see their dad leave behind the life he has known and the things he has accumulated, and no loving child wants to see their Dad so sad. 

I experienced a very real sense of grief and loss while packing up his things, setting up his room, and helping him transition to a new phase of life, There was more to it, though, and often I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling. 

Through my research and reading, and through wonderful constructive advice from friends who have been through similar situations, I have come to understand that many of the things I am experiencing are encompassed by two terms: ambiguous grief and anticipatory grief

I had never heard of either one until recently, and I think they should both be much more commonly known.

Ambiguous Loss is a kind of grief experienced where there is no distinct end or no closure. Generally speaking, it arises from an emotionally painful or turbulent situation that one is going through, and which doesn’t have an “end date”. The reasons for grief or a profound sense of loss might be indistict, or complex, or unidentifiable at the time. Sometimes the grief masquerades as anger, frustration or overwhelm. To experience ambiguous grief is vague, exhausting and indefinite in more ways than just the timeline. 

It’s that mixed feeling of sadness at having to make big decisions that we didn’t feel ready to make, and thankfulness that things worked out perfectly when we needed them to.

It’s the sadness we felt at making decisions about what to do with his things, and asking my best friend to adopt his cat, even though he is still with us.

It’s the sadness I feel at saying goodbye and leaving Dad behind every evening, knowing he is safe and well cared for in his new home, but also that he is no longer ‘at home’. He is exactly where he needs to be, and I love it and hate it at the same time. 

Anticipatory Grief occurs when one realises or acknowledges that death is approaching, or even just a likely outcome. 

This is what I have experienced on a number of occasions when Dad had a health crisis and ended up in hospital. Most vivid in my memories was March 1st this year when I had followed the ambulance to the ER in the wee hours of the morning. When I got there, instead of being taken through to see Dad right away as I had always been before, the doctor on duty actually took me into a little room and  had “the talk” with me to made sure I understood how precarious Dad’s condition was, and that he might not make it this time. To his relief, I was fully aware of that. I suppose many people are surprised by it, or in denial, and I totally get that, too. It’s the natural reaction but, having been there more than once, it is no longer my default. There was no dozing while I sat by my father’s bed that night: instead, I spent hours composing the message I would send to my siblings, and another that I would send to other family and friends, at a decent hour of the morning. 

This is what we felt when packing up Dad’s things for his room at the home, and when sorting and cleaning out the accumulation of papers, trinkets, and household items in his house. Those are the sorts of things usually done after someone dies, not before. Still, it had to be done. 

Similarly, putting his wallet and the jewellery box containing my grandfather’s wedding ring and Dad’s much-loved pocket watches in a special spot in my own house for safekeeping felt strangely poignant and painful and incredibly sad. 

This is what I go through every time Dad has a episode of poor health, or gets an infection, or can’t express why he doesn’t feel good. It happens when he has times of vagueness or confusion, and when he can’t find his words All of those things are happening more often than they used to, so the sense of grief increases as time goes on. 

What I have learned thus far is that ambiguous grief is a very real and important part of the emotional process, and that my feelings don’t always have to be understood to make sense and be accepted as valid

In hindsight, I wish I had understood both of these realities when my mother was diagnosed with dementia, when she went into care, and when she didn’t know who I was anymore. My father, siblings and I were grieving the loss of the person she had been long before she actually passed away. When she died, it felt like it was my mother and someone entirely different at the same time. I felt so guilty about feeling that her passing was a liberation for her and a relief for us, even though my grief was as desperate and profound as ever. I was angry at myself for not knowing how to feel. 

At least this time, with experience and some knew understandings, I can accept the vagueness and complexity of my feelings, which can change from one moment or one day to the next, and just let it be whatever it is. I can cherish every moment with Dad and grieve at the same Time. I am free to laugh and cry, to tell my siblings the stories that are simultaneously sad and funny, and to live each day as it comes without having to explain to myself or anyone else why I’m a mess. 

As awkward and painful and weird as that may be, but I think it’s a healthy way to be. Still, I know I need to manage all those pesky feelings so I stay healthy, too. 

So, I try to make sure I talk honestly with my husband, siblings and closest friends about my thoughts and feelings. My sisters and brother are feeling the same things, and they all live interstate, so keeping them in the loop and encouraging them to express their feelings are hugely important, too. 
I allow myself to cry. ‘Being strong’ is rubbish. 
I refuse to beat up on myself when things are tough, or if I don’t achieve everything on my ‘to-do’  list. 
I remind myself to take each day as it comes.
I remind myself that we are doing the best thing for our dad, and that he is being expertly and compassionately cared for.

And every single day, I hold Dad’s hand and I tell him I love him. Because, throughout this whole process, Dad being sure of that is the most important thing of all.  

Different Kinds of Grief‪
#EmotionalIntelligence #emotions #grief #feelings #MentalHealthMatters  #MentalHealthAwareness‬ #personal #blogpost 

Helpful Reading: 

What Is Ambiguous Loss? 

Ambiguous Grief: Grieving Simone Who Is Still Alive 

How To Deal With Ambiguous Loss

Grief Before Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Grieving Before A Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Supporting Kids And Teens Through The Covid-19 Limbo

Self-isolation does not have to be completely isolating. There are ways to support and encourage our kids and teens through the times of Covid-19.

To many people right now, the world seems like it is in crisis in the wake of the corona virus outbreak. Those of us old enough to remember SARS, swine flu and H1N1 tend to understand more of the reasons for that than our kids do, even if we still don’t understand why toilet paper is worth pulling a knife on someone, 

Yes, you read that right. It happened in a supermarket in Sydney, Australia, a couple of weeks ago.

To many of our kids and teens, though, it seems like some kind of madness has taken over. As concerts, sports, social events, classes and rehearsals have been brought to a screeching halt as they look on, some of them are starting to buy into the fear that they have seen expressed on TV, in social media, and among some members of the community. 

That hit home really personally on Sunday when our theatre company told the cast that we had decided to hit the pause button and defer our production of Little Shop of Horrors that was due to hit the stage in May. 

“This whole thing sucks!” one young cast member said. 
“I know!” another replied. “It’s taking all the joy out of life!” 
“I get it, though,” responded the first one. “We have to keep people safe. But it’s making a lot of people really miserable at the same time.”

She was 100% correct. I am feeling really miserable about it, too. That’s completely natural.

We will do the show — we just can’t say when. For now, rehearsals are suspended and we all find ourselves with a lot of extra time on our hands that we had been putting into working together for a common goal.

At a time when many of us are being isolated from the activities we love and the company of others who enjoy those same things, how do we stop the molehills of grief turning into mountains of misery? 

That’s a really big question, and I don’t profess to have all the answers. 

I do know that it’s important to find ways to encourage and motivate each other. It’s important to monitor and support each other’s emotional and mental health. 

So, here are just a few suggestions for possible ways to lift the spirits of the young people in your life during the disappointments and challenges caused byCovid-19:

  • Acknowledge their feelings. It’s quite natural to feel disappointed and a bit annoyed at the number of things being cancelled, postponed or banned. Instead of telling them to “suck it up” or “take it on the chin”, tell them you understand, and that you’re feeling similar things too. Empathy will always win more favour than platitudes. 
  • Involve them in the family decision making about social distancing, self-isolating and dealing with the practicalities that follow. Knowing that they have been listened to, and having some ownership of the decisions and plans that are made, will reduce feelings of resentment, anger and rebellion.
  • Praise and thank them for their maturity in accepting disappointments. A bit of intrinsic motivation goes a very, very long way with young people. 
  • Give them responsibility appropriate to their age and ability. It could be anything they feel is important and worthwhile: preparing a meal, keeping a particular area of the house clean and sanitised, disinfecting all the door handles in the house each day, or calling grandparents or other family members on the phone to support and encourage them. 
  • Limit the amount of “fear language” you allow in the house. This might  mean not watching the 6pm news on TV as a family, discussing what members of the family will allow on their social media feeds, and discussing things in a responsible way. Be honest about your feelings, but try to phrase your responses to the virus and consequent changes and limitations using positive and proactive language like “social responsibility” and “doing out part to protect the vulnerable” instead of using terms like “lockdown”, “corona virus jail” or “panic”. 
  • Encourage them to find constructive ways to use their spare time. ‘Netflix and chill’ is okay, but not all day, every day.
  • Self-isolation does not have to be completely isolating. Hanging out with friends in person may not be an option, but there are ways to socialise beyond the regular social media platforms where kids are likely to hear a lot of “doom and gloom” about the current situation. Try Skype calls or Google Meet, which enable people to spend time, chat, and still see each other, all from a distance.
  • Give them something to look forward to. Discuss and make plans for activities, holidays, or celebrations that will happen once the need for social distancing and self-isolation has passed. Anticipation of something good is a powerful antidote to feeling as though all the fun things have been taken away. 
  • Ask for their expert help. Whether it’s compiling a great playlist on Spotify, learning how to use Instagram or Snapchat, finding a great app or game for your phone or tablet, or ordering groceries or pizza online, older kids and teenagers are likely to have those skills down to a fine art. Even if you have a fair idea how to do those things, ask them anyway. 

While there is obviously no perfect solution, it’s important that we continue to try to find positive and healthy ways to deal with the limitations and restrictions that are being put in place.

If you have any other suggestions, please share them in a comment. 

Supporting Our Kids And Teens Through #CoronaVirus #lockdown disruption.
#support #PositivePosts #StayingHome #mentalwellbeing #MentalHealthAwareness #PositiveParenting

Smoke In Our Eyes.

Two years ago, it was my town threatened by bushfires. It was my community losing homes, livestock, and family farms. Now, it feels as though half the country is burning, or has already burnt down.

The horrific and disastrous bushfires this summer have triggered so many feelings and memories. I remember how gut-wrenchingly awful it was then, and cannot comprehend the exponential scale of the current catastrophe my country is experiencing. 

I took this picture today. Even hundreds of miles from the fires, western Victoria is blanketed by a pall of smoke. 

Like then, I have friends who have lost everything except the few things they managed to take with them as they evacuated. My heart breaks for them, but I am so incredibly thankful they got out when they did. 

I feel so useless. It seems as much as one donates and supports and cries and prays for an end to the fires, it never feels like enough. 

Add a few layers of grief, empathy, and occasional despair, and you get something of an idea about how many Australians are feeling at this point. 

I wrote this poem, and a number of others, in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018. It seems an appropriate poem to post at a point where a large proportion  of eastern Australia is either on fire, has burnt, or is blanketed in acrid smoke. 

It is a recollection of an actual conversation among locals in my town back in March 2018, and bears witness to the resilience and the empathy of Australians in the face of adversity. 

This poem is included in ‘Smoke and Shadows’.
All profits from the sale of this book between January 1 and June 30 are being donated to ongoing bushfire relief.

Taking The Bad With The Good

I have spent this morning contemplating the ways in which life can be so good and so utterly awful at the same time. 

Life offers many wonderful experiences, opportunities and pleasures. Some of those are simple, some are constant, and others are once-in-a-lifetime events. Little things happen every day that can really blow your mind when you stop taking them for granted. 

One of my most constant joys is that I am blessed with wonderful friends. Sure, I’ve known the pain of broken friendships, and the shock of discovering someone who I thought was a friend was the exact opposite of that. But I am also enormously blessed and privileged, because I have some of the most amazingly loyal, loving, supportive, and caring friends on the planet.

At the same time, everyone in my circle of closest friends is struggling with something awful. There have been victories, there have been defeats. There are ongoing issues that don’t look as though there will be resolution or healing anytime soon. Those friends would all consider that I am in that same boat with my chronic pain and spinal health issues.

Everyone suffers something awful at some point in their life. The hard times are balanced and put into perspective by great days, wonderful experiences, and the love and encouragement of those near and dear to us.

Still, the news I received from one of my closest friends this morning was particularly devastating. She has taken this news the same way she has dealt with her entire battle against her illness: in true warrior style. Although her future is unsure, her faith and courage are not. I am so inspired by her attitude and her strength. 

I feel as though I am the complete opposite of that. I’m full of tears and anger and questions and fear. I cried more than she did during our phone call. There is no point in pretending though, because this is all part of the grief process and it’s not healthy for anyone to suppress any of that. 

I don’t know what the coming weeks or months hold, but I do know one thing: I don’t want her to die. I don’t want to be without her. And I know that is a sentiment shared by every member of the family and probably everyone who knows her. 

I am keenly aware of not putting the cart before the horse, and treating her as though she’s already on her death bed. Although painfully aware that is the likely outcome, I will keep hoping and praying reminding myself that it might not come to that because I do still believe in miracles. I want to make every opportunity, shared moment and experience count. We already have a lifetime of memories together, and because I treasure her and her friendship so much, I want to make more. They don’t have to be big or magical. They just have to be.

So, as far as is possible, I will embrace and make the most of the joys while never forgetting or praying against the bad. None of us knows the number of our days, but we can do everything in our power to make every one of them count. 

It’s not about denial. It’s all about focusing on the good while living with the bad. There are no rules against tears, or frustration, or hating on whatever hurts. The only thing I refuse to do is give in to it and let it steal what is good, too. 

PS: Please don’t feel sorry for me. I am truly blessed – just very human.

One Less Star.

A couple of years ago, a friend asked a question on Facebook: “What difference would it make if I wasn’t here anymore?”

I wrote this poem for him.

I also wrote it for those who had never asked me the question — well, not that I know of, at least — and left of their own accord.

Because it is Suicide Prevention Week worldwide, it’s a very appropriate time to share this poem with you. I hope it encourages you.

Just so you know, my friend stayed. And I’m very glad he did.

And if you’re ever in that situation, I hope you will stay, too.

©Promo X One Less Star plain

Tonight
Through the tears
That sprang from your pain
And fell from my eyes,
I looked into the sky
Where there was one less star shining,
And I wept for the world
Where life carries on
Just that bit darker
Than before
You left.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

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img_3407This poem and fifty others are now published in a new collection: The Passing Of The Night.

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RU OK? World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today is RU OK Day, also known as World Suicide Prevention day.

This is an awareness very close to my heart.
I’m not going to expand on why, because I want the focus of this post to be positive and encouraging.

The message is important not just for today because it’s a special awareness day. This message is permanently, crucially important.

We need to take care of each other. Each of us is uniquely placed to offer support and encouragement to the people we know – friends, families, colleagues, students, whoever we cross paths with in our lives. That doesn’t mean we have to be their only support, although sometimes we might be just that. 

If you think someone is down, if they look tired or unwell, or notice they’re not taking care of themselves as well as they usually do, ask them if they are okay.  Don’t just ask as a throwaway question. Be willing to have a quality conversation that includes questions like:

  • What’s going on?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help?
  • Is there someone I can contact for you?

Taking the time to check in with someone deliberately and thoughtfully is a powerful communication of care and concern. 

It’s important  to realise that you or I might be the one positive thing that happens in someone’s day. We might be the only source of encouragement and light that they encounter. 

We also need to consider the power of our words. A curt dismissal or snide remark in response to a comment that might actually be a true confession of desperation, depression or anxiety can be incredibly destructive. We should never, ever be making a joke of that. Yes, sometimes it is attention-seeking or needless drama— but sometimes it’s not. 

A kind word or message of encouragement could be the difference between someone actually deciding that now is the time to end their life, or not. 

I know. It’s a huge responsibility. 

But imagine a world where each of us gives someone that kind of support, and someone else gives it to us when we need it. 

And if you’re thinking you’ll never need it, stop right now and be very, very thankful for the blessings in your life and the comfort of good, stable mental health. It’s not possible to emphasise enough just how lucky you are. 

If you’re one of those who is struggling, or feeling like you’re drowning, or tired of treading water… please, please, talk to someone. Seek help. Look for reasons —  any reason — to stay.  Please stay.

I wrote this poem after one of the darkest seasons of my life thus far. I hope that you will gain both perspective and insight from reading it. 

Before you read this poem, there is somethingI would likeyou to know.

This poem is absolutely, 100% true. It is personal, it is painfully honest, and it tells of my own experience, not anyone else’s. And you may find it quite confronting.

Despite its darkness, it is written to be positive, not negative.

It was not written to win sympathy or make anyone feel guilt: it was written so that people might understand what’s in my head, and what I’ve been feeling, and why I’ve made the choices I have.

To answer your concerns: I have chosen to stay here and to defy all impulses that tempt me otherwise. I don’t always feel okay, I’m not always okay, but I will be okay.

For anyone in a similar position: hold on. Stay here. You matter more than you know.

Promo X Still Here Plain.jpeg

STILL HERE.

For a moment-
One fleeting, isolated point in time-

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Elegy in Times Square

Originally posted on Longreads:
Lily Burana | Longreads | January 2019 | 8 minutes (1,880 words) Before Disney sprinkled corporate fairy dust over Times Square and turned it family-friendly, Josef and I worked there. Not together, but at the same time. Not underage, but barely legal. He was a go-go boy at the Gaiety on…

This is a powerful and poignant piece of writing by Lily Burana via Longreads.

I found her writing to be vivid, full of colour and movement.

There was one line that really stood out to me: even though I have not shared the authors contexts and experiences, it struck me as holding the power of #metoo, watered by the tears of every victim of abuse, exploitation and oppression who looks back on their lives and wishes they could be different.

“Just because money makes you say Yes doesn’t mean the body doesn’t store No in its memory — as sorrow, as trauma.”

I, too, store trauma in this way, although my trauma has come from very different sources. In that sense, despite our different backgrounds and stories, her pain resonates with mine.

I recommend this essay, Elegy in Times Square, best read with an open mind and an empathetic soul.

Longreads

Lily Burana | Longreads | January 2019 | 8 minutes (1,880 words)

Before Disney sprinkled corporate fairy dust over Times Square and turned it family-friendly, Josef and I worked there. Not together, but at the same time. Not underage, but barely legal. He was a go-go boy at the Gaiety on 46th Street. I was a peep show girl at Peepland on 42nd. Those were dangerous days. Between crack, AIDS, heroin, and that old stand-by, booze, if you weren’t leveled, you were blessed, watched over by some dark angel. We believed we were among the lucky ones.

We didn’t have anything resembling guidance or even common sense to rely on. What we had was the dressing room tutelage of elders scarcely old enough to drink, and the backbone of every sex industry transaction — commodified consent. Customers grabbed whatever they could, based on whatever you were willing to endure. We…

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Mother’s Day, 2018: A Tribute To My Mother.

My mother was the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm. 

Today is celebrated as Mother’s’ Day in Australia and many other places around the world. My mother passed away in 2011, but today I want to pay tribute to her as the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm.

IMG_0035I inherited my love of books and reading from both my parents, but it was Mum who put the consistent effort in to enabling my reading habit.

I surprised my mother – and probably everyone else, now that I think of it – by being able to read when I was three years old. In a manner entirely consistent with how I would behave for the rest of my life, I picked her up on skipping words and sentences when she was reading to me. I can understand her doing that – I’ve read the same book to kids a bazillion times, too, and it does wear a little thin. Back then, though, I was probably morally outraged as only a three year old can be when they’re getting shortchanged on a favourite story. When I read back to her the story as it was written on the page, Mum thought I had merely memorised the whole thing. So she chose a new book for me, and I read that one to her, too.

From that time on, Mum was always enthusiastic and active in encouraging me to read widely, and spent many Saturday afternoons driving me to the library so that I could borrow enough books to keep me going for two weeks.

By the time I was ten, I had read all of her Agatha Christie books and many of my grandgather’s Perry Mason and James Bond books, and I had well-loved copies of the Narnia Chronicles and the “Little House” books on my own shelf.

It was then that Mum let me read the old copy of Anne of Green Gables that her own parents had given her. I clearly remember reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island sand saying to her, “I’m going to go there one day.”
“You have no idea how far away that is!” she replied.
“I don’t care. I’m going!” was my response.

23 2015-10-04 15.08.02
I finally did go to PEI and visited Green Gables in 2015, and I wished that I could have told Mum and shown her my photos. I believe she would have been genuinely happy for me, and proud that I had achieved something I had wanted to do since that young age.

I know my mother was proud of me for following her into teaching, and I know she would have been proud as punch of the fact that I became a writer, too.

My career as a poet and author, though, would have been far less likely to happen without the love for books and reading that Mum and Dad modelled and mentored for me, and for that I will always be thankful.

My first book was not born until almost five years after Mum graduated to heaven. I couldn’t write about her passing for several years afterwards, because it was too raw. When I did finish the poem that I wrote for her, I shared it with my father and siblings so that they could share my memory. If they hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have published it. They did, though, and it enabled me to share part of that last day of her life to which they were not witnesses.

Since ‘July 19, 2011’ was published in ‘Nova’, it has touched and encouraged many people who have lost their mums – and dads, and others close to them. When people tell me that my poetry has touched their heart or affected the way they think about something, that’s when I feel the most fulfilled as a poet. I’m really proud today that Mum’s poem can have that effect on someone else. Although she is gone, her legacy lives on, not just in my memory and my heart, but also in my writing.

It’s impossible to not miss my mother on days like today, and not a day passes that I don’t think of her.  So, for Mothers’ Day 2018, I want to share the poem I wrote for her with you. I hope you enjoy it and find it meaningful.

 

ScreenHunter_442 May. 13 13.50